Strategies for Building Momentum With Clients and Stakeholders
Words by Marta Segal Block, Visuals by Delaney Gibbons
As part of a Women in Research event in November, dscout sponsored and participated in a panel focused on how to create “insights with momentum.”
The discussion covered a wide range of topics, but three main questions emerged:
What makes research eye-popping instead of just interesting?
How can you maintain momentum with research and with clients?
What are some best practices for building and maintaining strong client relationships?
Speaking on the panel were researchers Ryan Shirkman of Crate & Barrel, Sarah Simon of Salesforce Ignite, Paulina Carlos of INSITUM, Kim Saving of Accenture, and Stefani Bachetti of the dscout Studio. The panel was moderated by Stacy Neier Beran of the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago.
What makes research “eye-popping,” as opposed to just interesting? For Ryan Shirkman, an eye-popping insight has to be actionable, spark ideas, and create alignment across an organization.
Stefani Bachetti says a true insight is something that’s “generally understood as ordinary, but then looked at in a different way.” Bachetti believes that you can create eye-popping research if you learn to look at insights through a different lens and consider the strategic needs of your client.
For Kim Saving, the depth of the multimedia present in her qualitative research makes the findings more relatable and engaging to her stakeholders. “You start to put these pieces together and it gives you that seat at the table because you have the information behind you—the data, and then the customer insights, the videos, and the quotes,” Saving says.
You start to put these pieces together and it gives you that seat at the table because you have the information behind you—the data, and then the customer insights, the videos, and the quotes
Everyone agrees that the “stickiness” of the insights (that is, the ability of the insight to remain important and stick in the client’s mind) is important, and that the stickiest insights are empathetically shared from your customer’s or stakeholder’s point of view. Saving believes that simple, short, concise insights are more memorable, transferable, and sticky.
The idea of stickiness led rather naturally to problems that researchers often have related to building and maintaining momentum while delivering a project, either engaging others while the research is happening or getting stakeholders to use and act upon the findings.
Maintaining Momentum in Research
The participants agree that the difficulty of maintaining momentum comes from one of two places. The first is a client (internal or external) who loses interest in, or becomes too busy to interact with, a project while it’s happening. The second is when a client has moved on by the time the research is finished, meaning that there’s no follow-through with the insights from the project.
“Our designers or research people [use] all these research techniques to understand a problem that we’re trying to solve,” says Saving. “We design for that, we test it, we launch it and then, crickets … because we’re always on to the next big thing.”
Sarah Simon mentioned that Salesforce Ignite is trying to avoid this problem by doing smaller, pilot research programs that help keep things agile. Her team also attempts to maintain momentum by being very intentional with the start of a project. Working with a coach, they conduct a two-hour kick-off meeting that covers goals and potential roadblocks. As the project continues, the team uses tangible reminders such as sticky notes to keep them on course, and they stop frequently to discuss progress.
Serving clients through the dscout Studio, Stefani Bachetti says that her clients usually have more clarity about the company’s roadmap than researchers do, and so she stresses the need for collaboration and empathy when dealing with clients who are losing momentum. It’s important for her to try and understand why the loss of contact, interest or availability is happening on the client’s end.
Saving suggests a simple (though high-touch) solution to this problem: Build relationships with several points of contact for a client, to keep progress going even if one key stakeholder becomes busy or otherwise unresponsive.
Best Practices with Clients
Empathy and understanding play a large role in how these researchers serve their clients. If you understand that clients are often responsible to additional stakeholders (and know who these people are and how they want information), you’re better equipped to present research in ways that will be most useful to the client. As Simon says, “Use the same empathy we use for understanding people and users towards your client and stakeholders.”
In addition to empathy, Paulina Carlos suggests that sometimes you just have to be comfortable not knowing what happened with research. Carlos pays attention to warning signs at the beginning of a relationship as a sign of what’s to come. “Unengaged clients that miss meetings or don’t review the protocol … those are big red flags,” she says.
It’s also crucial to build a human relationship with your outside collaborators. One best practice the panelists agreed on is to check in with clients regularly during and after a project. Bachetti says that ideally, you should foster a relationship in which you can call a point of contact directly and ask why he or she hasn’t yet acted if the next steps are in their hands.
If you’re doing it by yourself, then you’re not giving credit.
Simon says she often calls clients out of the blue on their personal numbers just to chat, and that these chats frequently result in interesting insights about the company, more trust between her and the client, and better collaboration overall.
And as Shirkman says in support of the collaborative nature of any project, “If you’re doing it by yourself, then you’re not giving credit.”
Whether you’re serving clients or internal stakeholders, the same principles for driving engagement hold true: Strive to understand the needs of others and share your qual insights in the ways (like multimedia) that are most likely to resonate with them, build rich relationships with regular communication, and become a true collaborator who understands the company’s objectives.